USPS Black Heritage stamp honors Edmonia Lewis
On Jan. 26, the United States Postal Service will honor African American and Native American sculptor Edmonia Lewis with a new “forever” stamp. Lewis worked for a time in Boston, and the portrait used for the stamp art is based on a photograph by Augustus Marshall in Boston between 1864 and 1871.
Lewis was the first African American and Native American sculptor to earn international prominence for her work, and her artistic career began right here on the streets of Boston. Born in Greenbush, New York in 1844, Lewis was a trailblazer from an early age. She attended Oberlin College in 1859, when only 30 students of color were enrolled there. For a woman of color to be there was groundbreaking.
In 1863, Lewis moved to Boston and began working professionally as an artist for the first time. Her early works were portraits of white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. After studying with Edward Augustus Brackett and beginning to sell her pieces, Lewis opened her own studio in the city and had her first solo exhibition in 1864.
Lewis was in the crowd that watched the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment march through Boston in May of 1863. Inspired by the event, Lewis sculpted a portrait bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who led the regiment, and debuted it at a fair of works by artists of color held in Boston. Through sales of these busts and photographs of it, Lewis was able to fund a trip abroad, where she established an international reputation as a talent sculptor.
Lewis’ forever stamp is the 45th stamp in the Black Heritage series, which dates back to 1978. Though the formal series was launched at that time, the first stamp to honor an African American person was the Booker T. Washington stamp in 1940.
“The new 2022 stamps are miniature works of art, designed to be educational and appeal to collectors and pen pals around the world,” said USPS Stamp Services Director William Gicker. “As always, the program offers a variety of subjects celebrating American culture and history.”
Lewis’ career grew to one of profound achievement in the European art scene, where attitudes about race were less hostile than the United States. But it was here in Boston that Lewis honed her craft and began working professionally as a sculptor.
Locally, art lovers can see photographs of Lewis and a bust she sculpted of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at the Harvard Art Museums. And starting Jan. 26, Lewis’ image can be spotted adorning letters around the country on her forever stamp.